Hello, everyone and welcome back to another episode of reverb. My name is Alex Helberg. And I am joined on the mic as always by my co-host and co-producer Calvin Pollak. How're you doing? Calvin?
Doing? Good, Alex, how about you, man? How are you?
I'm doing swell. It's, you know, fourth week of the semester for me. I'm just kind of, you know, getting into the swing of things. It's you know, that's how it that's how it goes.
This is the point in the semester when you just start to really feel it. You're in it. You're in the soup. You're in the soup.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. We're stirring the pot. We get the soup, it's at a simmer, it's got a boil on
the weather's a little cooler. It's soup weather.
Man, you're making me hungry. We're recording this episode right around dinnertime too. So it doesn't help that we're just--man. I'm just craving comfort food now. But we do have something we are going to be roasting something this evening. Speaking of food metaphors, because we're back for another installment of our rejoinder series in which we take arguments that are themselves a little charred, a little overcooked, and we decide to roast them a little further. We take take them down from our standpoint as rhetorical critics and just examine the kind of language and spurious assumptions that they are making in forwarding their arguments on everything from language, politics, academia, things that are generally in our wheelhouse. And as I understand it, Calvin, you have brought us in a fairly unique artifact for our rejoinder series today, isn't that right?
That's right, Alex, this is gonna be fun. Because today, for the first time ever, we will be rejoining a podcast. That's right, folks, you come to reverb for for meta, post modernist postmodernist self referential content, do you not? Well, what what is more meta than a podcast about another podcast?
Podcast-ception, we're just going to be we're going to be like five podcasts deep by the end of this episode. And you're not going to you're not going to know which one you started with.
It's truly a Russian doll of podcasts. And I do I do put emphasis on Russian. Oh, which makes sense, which will make sense in a second. But okay, so it's not just any podcast, there is actually quite a publicly significant podcast that just came out. And for those listeners who follow our social media, as well as our podcast feed, you might have seen that we actually did a thread about this one. And that is the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States has developed their own podcast, and they've released the first episode.
Yeah, it's the CIA has dropped a podcast
Ya know, this is quite a big deal. Because, you know, it's just such a bizarre choice for an agency like the CIA to get into the podcasting game. I mean, we already had Pod Save America and Chapo Trap House. I don't know why we needed another CIA podcast.
We need another--is this also going to be a pseudo left wing podcast that purports to have progressive ideals, but is really is really just trying to, to black pill, the youth into complacency?
Just trying to wreck social movements and create chaos. Right, right. I think you'll find that it's a lot more boring than that. But but I'm excited to share it with you. And maybe we should take a second before we actually listen to some clips and react. Just to talk for a second about what the CIA does. So Alex, give me your kind of first reaction when you think about the CIA. Do you think of the CIA as a positive organization? Do you think of them as woke in the way that conservatives now talk about the CIA?
No, no, I mean, despite their their recent advertisements, which I believe we played clips on of on a previous show,
I'm a woman of color. I am a mom. I am a cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I am intersectional.
They've been trying to make these sorts of attempts more lately to to sort of posture as a progressive or quote unquote, woke organization. The CIA, as I understand it, I mean, the first thing I associated with is secrecy and sort of covert operations, usually conducted at the behest of some branch of the US states, usually involving international affairs, right? So everything from coups that they have staged in Central and South America, all the way to cooperations with right wing governments and anti communist movements in Europe and Asia. So I mean, there's there's various kind of malign things that that is typically associated with them, I do not consider them to be beneficent force in the world.
Right. And I think that the primary thing that the CIA does, which we should be very clear about, is surveillance. So the CIA is an intelligence organization. Intelligence, fundamentally, is information-- is nonpublic information that is possessed by the US government, and used to motivate various kinds of policies, mostly military policies. But surveillance, you know, often gets associated more with the NSA and the FBI. The CIA maintains an international network of informants and spies, who tend to do more of the human intelligence, the kind of old fashioned style of spying where you have people embedded within the Chinese government or the Russian government, who are in fact, CIA agents, passing information back to the US government. But of course, increasingly, they're developing offensive cyber weapons, they do a lot of that kind of stuff. They helped Israel create a cyber weapon that took down Iran's nuclear program, for example, a tool called Stuxnet. A bunch of their hacking tools were actually leaked by Wikileaks a few years back, right, which was actually the thing that put WikiLeaks in the most legal jeopardy. But so they engage in a bunch of operations, primarily offensive in nature, to get information about states that the US deems to be enemies.
Right. Yeah. And I do think that that is kind of interesting that they've moved from that sort of, you know, human intelligence, or is their nuspeak term for it is HUMINT? Right?
HUMINT, right. Yeah.
From HUMINT to this more, you know, sort of cyber warfare. Almost like, I mean, are they are they not also involved in propaganda operations?
That's true, as well. Yeah. Right. So they work with, there's a, there's an official US propaganda outlet called Voice of America, right? They work on that. And there's evidence from leaked documents that they do other kinds of offensive propaganda. Although, like, according to US law, they are legally not allowed to do that kind of operation within the US. But of course, they maintain connections with journalists, and often when there are anonymous officials, serving as the primary evidence for national security stories in the US media, those are CIA, CIA backed stories, if not, if not directly planted by the CIA.
So for those of you that don't know what this means, if you've ever read a piece of reporting on foreign affairs or national security, and you see somebody quoted that says, you know, this is an anonymous official who spoke, spoke on condition of the conditions of anonymity, that's usually--not always--but kind of a giveaway term that you're talking about somebody who's working in covert operations or intelligence or
Yeah, or perhaps a high ranking White House official, right? I mean, the White House is one of the primary customers of the CIA, right, so much of what the official White House line on various issues is, in fact, comes from the CIA.
Yeah, I was I was also going to ask, you said Calvin, that the White House is one of the primary customers of the CIA, could you explain a little bit? Is that just a metaphor? Or is that a literal customer-client sort of relationship?
So it is, is used somewhat metaphorically, I mean, in the sense that, like, there's no money being exchanged, but that's actually the language that intelligence agencies use, they talk about customer organizations or agencies. That means that, for example, the CIA or the NSA might receive a request for intelligence from the White House or from the military, from a particular branch of the military, from a US ally. And then the intelligence agency responds and delivers an intelligence report. But so let's let's take a listen to this podcast. And so the very first clip that I have to share with you is basically the intro to the show. And I think that this really sets the tone for how bizarre This is.
Decades ago, a quote was carved into a marble wall at headquarters. And you shall know the truth it reads, and the truth shall make you free.
Oh, yeah. If you need me to pause at any point, just just let me know.
We'll do we'll do at this point I'm just laughing at the truth will set you free. Is it just making every anyone who's ever you know, donned the proverbial tinfoil hat? Their head is just exploding right now. I just have to say
15 Second. Yeah, it was yeah, it Yeah,
they they, Yeah, boy. Alright, let's look
At CIA, there are truths we can share, stories we can tell. Stories of duty and dedication, stories of ingenuity and mission. stories beyond those of Hollywood scripts and shadowed whispers. Today, we're taking a step out from behind those shadows, sharing what we can and offering a glimpse into the world of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is the Langley files
Wow, wow, what an opening. I mean, I gotta give credit where it's like production value credit where it's due, like they, they were clearly putting some money into
this. Well, and they clearly listened to a lot of podcasts. Just figuring out this genre. I mean, it sounds like Serial, or
it totally that's exactly what it reminded me of. Yes, yeah. The plucked strings they knew to go for the, the plucked strings is the genre feature that you have to nail if you're doing a which is like, which is so funny that it invokes a sort of invokes True Crime crime, but it's like there's like let us let us divulge our true crimes that we have committed to you, the American public. There are finally some true crime tales about--this is no longer a true crime podcast. This is a war crime podcast now.
Absolutely. All right. So let's hear let's hear the intro of our first host Dee.
Welcome to everyone out there who's intrigued enough to press play, and listen in on this very first episode of The Langley files, a CIA podcast. My name is Dee, and I'm joined by my partner, Walter. And together we're really excited to have you come along.
I love that they're saying a CIA podcast, like we're gonna get more. This is the Crooked Media of intelligence.
Yeah, it's like an Earwolf podcast.
Brought to you by PRX.
As we explore different topics related to CIA, and chat with a wide variety of interesting and entertaining guests. We'll be your guides around the corridors here at Langley, separating fact from fiction and learning what it takes to work at the world's premier foreign intelligence agency.
Yeah, so that's the that's one. Okay. All right.
That's interesting in that, you know, this is it almost feels at this point, like this podcast, if I'm trying to suss out, like, what is the social action that this genre is trying to accomplish? This is this seems like a recruiting tool, does it not? Yes.
No. Okay. You're right. I think yeah, that's
because I mean, if we think about this, in the context of that, that classic, notorious CIA advertisement, which we'll probably have to pipe in the audio of that, again, that was essentially a call for potential interested, job seekers, basically, to come and work for the CIA. And that, that line at the very end of this last clip that says, we're going to tell you about what it's like to work for the, you know, the world's most premier intelligence agency makes me think that this is like, this is like a job ad basically.
Yeah, no, I think you're right. I think that's a key part of what they're doing here. And I think it's worth thinking through why they might be appealing to the kinds of people who like podcasts. And so we should think about what this genre how this genre functions as social action for the CIA. Absolutely. So let's take a listen to the second host, Walter, his introduction. Okay.
Hey, everyone, as Dee mentioned, I'm Walter, and if you're tuning in, the odds are you've heard a fair bit about the CIA. Some of what you've heard is true. Some of it is not a lot after all has been broadcast about the Central Intelligence Agency, but no one classified podcast asked has ever been produced by the Central Intelligence Agency? Until now.
Now, wait a minute. Does that mean that there has been a classified podcast? We need a new Edward Snowden. I need to hear that classified pod! They're just doing like, you know, the most rancid, offensive, problematic riffs in classified one.
Yeah, that's where they make all their problematic jokes that you know that that would get them canceled.
All of the slurs. Exactly. So that's Walter. So what do you think of our two hosts just based on these clips? Their kind of their vocal performativity? How are they coming across to you?
Very cold. I mean, this is clearly something that's read off of a script. This seems like somebody who maybe either lost a bet or got your like botched their last operation. And so this is like this. They're being they're being put on desk duty, like, this is what it did. This is desk duty for the CIA is what it feels like. I don't know. Is that Is that what came to you as well?
I think so. But I also think these are two people who do really like podcasts. Oh, they're doing their best like podcast voice. Yeah, impression. And so I think you'll be able to tell that a little bit more as we listen to two more. So this next clip I have is their explanation of why a podcast.
And we know many of you might be wondering, why is CIA unveiling a podcast? Isn't the whole point to be secret? Didn't you guys invent neither confirm nor deny?
And I can confirm that, Yes, we did invent that saying.
Oh, my God, oh. Oh, my God. Okay. I mean, so it is interesting that they're opening this up with a lot of meta discourse about you, the listener probably came here to, you know, shit on us, basically. There's, there's a kind of open acknowledgement that like, if you are coming to this podcast, which again, you know, that might be kind of a savvy thing, like, you know, we, we maybe maybe we've been opped Calvin, you know, like we they know that we are the kind of audience that is going to be coming to listen to this. And so they're trying to preface it with you know, that you've been told a lot of things about the CIA, some of them are true. Some of them are not. Oh, did you know we invented the phrase can neither confirm nor deny, like, Oh, you've heard that in movies, right? It's, it's supposed to be this kind of like, I it is interesting that they that they seem to be trying to make this feel more banal, right,
like, oh, yeah, I think they're trying to humanize themselves. I mean, this has been a broader effort on the part of intelligence agencies over the last like, seven to 10 years is doing more public events, more public media. And I think that it's an effort to basically counter bad press, bad media, and just say, We're just regular folks. And I think that when we get into the next clip, which is where, so most of this episode, they're interviewing the current CIA director, William Burns, and Burns talks in the next clip, he basically gives his general stance on who the CIA is. And why it actually does make sense for them to be doing a podcast--for Walter and Dee to be doing this podcast. So let's take a listen and see if it helps us understand what they're going for here.
Well, it's great to be with you guys. And you're right, intelligence agencies are supposed to collect secrets and keep them and not talk too much about them. We do usually operate in the shadows out of sight, out of mind, our successes are often obscured, our failures are often painfully visible. And our sacrifices are often unknown. But a certain amount of discretion certainly comes with the territory, we have a profound obligation to protect agents and officers who risked their lives in support of our mission, which is to help protect Americans. But I'm convinced, as I know you are that in our democracy, where trust in institutions is in such short supply, that it's important to try to explain ourselves as best we can and to demystify a little bit of what we do. So that's why I'm glad you're launching this podcast and glad to be with you.
And that's, that's a great word to use, the demystify word. And what we are trying to do is just that, is we think that by engaging a little bit more with the public, we can kind of help to lessen some of those misconceptions that many do have of us. So thank you for that.
There's so much There's so much there. Oh, there's so much to begin. So I would use a different word, rather than demystify. And it's a word that if you if you've studied or talked to anyone who knows anything about the CIA before, you would know this term to be called limited hangout, that a limited hangout is essentially this notion of like, let's just put a little bit out there in the open to give the give the veneer of transparency, when you know, really what is like, Oh, here's this distraction over here while we're doing something way, way worse over here on this other side, right. It's, it's a, it I mean, to be quite frank, it's like an authoritarian tactic. It's a way of saying, look at how transparent and democratic we're being, we are committed to re re establishing trust in our institutions. And really, this is just like, sort of the, the most milquetoast thing that you could possibly put out there. Right, that this is, you know, a sort of like, we're gonna we're gonna put a little bit out there for you. But, you know, obviously, we need to keep the rest of it protected, you know, to keep our to keep our hardworking men and women safe protecting America. That's also I mean, that's a tired trope at this point.
Right? Absolutely. I mean, I think that's, that's harder and harder for most Americans to feel, that this agency actually protects us as individuals, it feels like such an outdated concept. But I was also really struck by two other things. The first being this acknowledgement, that trust in institutions is, is waning, and that that's such a massive concern. And I'm always like, Oh, my God, he admit it! You know, God. Like, you did that, you know, your policies and your mistakes. I mean, let's not forget, the CIA played a massive role in the intelligence that led to the Iraq War. Yeah. You know, there has been some history, you know, historical work on that, that has made the case that it was a kind of rogue intelligence unit within the CIA, that was stove, what's called stovepiping intelligence, which is, which is when, you know, it's kind of an it's like what you're talking about with the limited hangout, but it's an intentional omission of facts that the agency has about a situation to support a particular policy agenda. Stovepiping is like cutting out all the stuff that disconfirms the hypothesis you want to run with, in this case, in this case, the hypothesis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein had clear connections to al Qaeda, all of these things that were used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq. But for that kind of information, to make it to the president, to actually underwrite policy, it has to have a lot of institutional support within the agency. So I kind of refuse to go fully in on the stovepiping theory. Like I think that the CIA has acknowledged mistakes they made in that situation, but they haven't fully reckoned with how much that reflected, like, an agency wide belief in the necessity of the war, and then seeking out any evidence to back that up. Yeah. And, you know, that's to say nothing about torture, you know, which the CIA has acknowledged now, which the Obama administration acknowledged. which even you know, the former CIA director, Gina Haspel. Acknowledged. Yes, right, unapologetically. So, unapologetically, she was involved in the torture program. And, and nevertheless, you know, Democrats voted for her when Trump appointed her as CIA director. But the bottom line is that, like, the CIA, even just since 911, has done plenty of publicly known things that have contributed to our widespread disgust and distrust towards institutions, right, so to talk about that, as if it's just an objective fact they have to deal with and respond to, I think, is bizarre.
I do wonder if they're going to address that at all, like, oh, yeah, let's talk about that. I mean, I doubt it. But you know, let's let's address the things that we did potentially that contributed to this destabilization. Yeah.
Let's see if they do that. So my next clip is Bill Burns, making a little joke, so this one's fun.
But one big misconception that a lot of those really entertaining movies feed is that intelligence in real life is just a glamorous world of solo operators, the world of James Bond and Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan, a world of heroic individuals who drive fast cars and defuse bombs and solve world crises all on their own every day. That I have to tell you is a constant source of amusement for my wife and daughters. They never cease to remind me that they don't exactly fit that image. Since I'm most comfortable driving our 2013 Subaru Outback posted speed limits, and that for me, at least the height of technological daring is when I can finally get the Roku remote to work at home.
Oh, just pain pain.
Subaru Outback baby, you know, he's, you know, he's whipping that thing. He's not going the speed limit. If you're the CIA director you don't need to drive the speed limit. Come on.
Absolutely. No, every road for you is the Autobahn if you the CIA director, and not just because you were involved in the recuperation of Nazi war criminals, boom, nailed it. Sorry. Anyway. Anyway, no, that's two things that I would ever admit publicly driving, you know, for example, a 2007 Toyota rav4. That's my whip. Or, I don't know, I also love that the examples that he gives of the sort of like Hollywood, secret agents, whereas like, you know, when I think of the CIA, you know, like, I'm thinking of, I'm thinking of rather different films that involve things like, you know, like counter intelligence operations gone completely awry, right? Like, I mean, that's the thing, like James Bond is not the CIA, Jason Bourne is not the CIA, like these are these are not really, I mean, sorry, Jason Bourne wasn't CIA, was he?
I honestly can't remember. I saw like two of those movies. And the plots always baffled me.
I was only there for the Moby soundtrack. I wanted to hear his version of Extreme Ways that played at the end of every movie. That's that's all I was really there for.
Moby was in charge of the vegan counter intelligence operations to get everybody pissed off at vegans.
90s hipster COINTELPRO. Yes. Yeah, no, I don't know why he thinks that that's what people associate the CIA with. I think people just think of like, Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, etc. We think of those as just kind of like generic movie spies. I don't think people think yeah, that's who the CIA is. I think people think much darker stuff. Like JFK assassination, coups... like all these things that people have questions, or have knowledge that the CIA might have been involved in. But yeah, so I, you know, this is another kind of pitch to humanization to say like, "See, I struggle with the Roku remote too, I'm just like you." But Burns goes on to describe what the CIA does in general. So let's, let's see if we agree with this description.
Every day, our officers are doing hard jobs and hard places around the world. Every day. We're recruiting agents and collecting information on the plans and the intentions and the capabilities of our adversaries. Every day, our scientists and technologists and digital specialists are developing new tools to help us compete with those adversaries. And every day. Our analysts are sifting through all that information and studying the global landscape to try to produce the best insights that we can to help the President make the best policy choices that he can.
So immediate thing that jumps out to me there is that, you know, you're framing the CIA's work in an idiom of competition, which I thought was fascinating, right, that this is not something that is, as you said before, Calvin, I think rather, astutely, a lot of the intelligence and covert operations that the CIA heads up are primarily offensive, right, like they are, you know, undermining democratically elected governments and things like that. They are, whereas the way that the way that Bill Burns here is trying to frame it is we're just trying to keep up right, like we are just trying to match the shape of the threats that are out there that that pose a threat to the safety of the American people, which again, I think that if you really like that's, that's rather crass in terms of the history of what the CIA has done, this is more like, you know, the scale of the the scale of the offensive that the CIA is putting up against the sort of like, you know, quote unquote insurgencies that they are putting down is not anywhere in the realm of competition, right? Like this is to me, it does not feel like that is really the proper idiom to frame this in at all. I also love that just the just the invocation of the phrase hard place, you know, we're doing hard work and hard play, like we tried looking at we tried doing our jobs in these rocks. And we found that that wasn't working. So we had to go to hard places.
Or even or even, you know, easy, easy places. Like what's an easy place? Is America an easy place right now? I don't think so. It's not so easy If you want to not catch a debilitating disease. This is just, that metaphor did strike me as really capturing the kind of nationalistic worldview of these agencies so well, but but as you're saying, everything is framed in terms of an organic, objective competition in the world. I mean, this is fundamentally like a Hobbesian state of nature, a situation of international anarchy, like all of these kinds of ideas that the CIA just takes for granted and then regurgitates. But I have a couple of clips of basically, the CIA's official narrative of two of its recent, quote, unquote, successes. And the first at first is the CIA's success in the lead up to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. So let's, let's listen to this.
Who, well, that doesn't always involve fast cars and solo heroics. There's no shortage of courage and skill and ingenuity among our officers. And I just cite two recent examples. The first is Russia's war in Ukraine. Where working with our partners across the US intelligence community, we were able to paint a pretty clear picture of Putin's plans to mount a major new invasion of Ukraine last fall, months before he actually launched that invasion on the 24th of February. And that enabled us to help Ukrainians defend themselves. It helped us to build allied unity, it helped to expose the fact that what Putin was about was a naked, unprovoked aggression. And we reinforced that by, you know, the President's decision to declassify some of our secrets as well.
So what do you think of that? Great success in Ukraine?
It seems like one of those things were like, Did Did, did we need that? Did we need the CIA to tell us that this was unprovoked? Like, like act of aggression? I don't, I don't really see what the value add here.
Well, I gotta be honest, it feels very virtue signally to me like we exposed Putin, we called Putin out. What did that do for Ukrainians?
Nothing, nothing. People's people are getting bombed the hell out like it still didn't
Stop the war. And, you know, I mean, I think there's so much about the Ukraine situation that we don't know that that's going to take probably decades to fully understand. And so, you know, we haven't talked about it much on the show, because we're not experts in the region. We don't want to claim that kind of expertise. But I just think this narrative of what the CIA did, and claiming this as a major success story, is very bizarre to me. Because they didn't prevent it. The, you know, the war destroyed the country. We'll see how it ends up. And it does seem like it's damaged Putin a lot. But, again, what like, how is that a success for Ukrainians or Americans? I think it has to be clarified much more than that description. That description makes it sound like yay, we proved that Putin is bad. Okay, amazing.
And also, it would have been worse if we hadn't been there to do something. Right. Like, like, imagine or like, yeah, like what what what could be worse than the sort of like bloody grinding daily stalemate that the war seems to be at least at the time of this recording, you know, in in late 2022. I saw Yeah, sorry. Like, that's kind of a hollow claim to success. Like it's hard to see a point where like, this could be worse, right? There's no clear no clear end in sight here.
Let's take a listen to Burns's second success story. And, at least in this case, you'll see it involves us killing someone like direct direct. Alright, so let's see if we think that it was a great success.
And then the second example is in the successful strike against Iman al Zawahiri, the co founder, along with Osama bin Laden of al Qaeda, responsible along with bin Laden for the deaths of 1000s of innocent people on 911 and other horrific al Qaeda terrorist attacks over the years. That was a product that successful strike was a product of many months of painstaking work to track and locate. So we're here every. And then a month ago, it enabled the United States to conduct a successful strike against him in the middle of downtown Cabo without causing any other casualties. And I'd add only that I was in New York City a few days ago, and I had a chance to make a quiet visit to the 911 Memorial at ground zero, which is always a powerful experience, as many of your listeners know. But it was especially powerful this time, because it gave me a chance to reflect a little bit on on how that successful strike by the United States brought at least a measure of justice for the victims and their families.
Oh, boy, I mean, where to begin with this one, too? I mean, if I'm thinking just about the overall casualty rate of the USS targeted assassination program, generally over you know, especially in the Middle East, I mean, you know, they're like, how many? How many cases of a, you know, a bombed funeral or wedding Do you have that eventually led up to like, okay, yeah, 20 years later, we finally, like got an actual target of this, you know, this this entire time that we have been classifying any military aged male person who our cameras can pick up as a potential enemy combatants, who, you know, counts as a, who counts as an enemy casualty when they are, you know, basically murdered by drone strikes. Sorry. Like, again, this is one of those things that rings hollow and, and the sort of invocation of like, well, you know, it made me reflect a lot more on 911. Knowing that, you know, we finally killed al Zawahiri. It's like, at what expense at what cost? It's, like totally leaving aside, whether or not like the US has, like whether or not that sort of like vengeance warfare is worthwhile, and that, you know, whether or not the US reserves the right to kill, to assassinate people on foreign soil, just willy nilly. What what was the what was the human cost in the lead up to that how many people had to die in order for the infrastructure to be built up for, you know, that kind of precision strike to happen? I'm sorry, I just don't I don't buy it.
Right. And I think, you know, this discussion is premised on the idea that this is a success. This is one of the best things that the CIA can claim, as a success, as this is what we work for every day. Sending our hard man into hard places. It's, it's offensive. Because when you think about the fact that the CIA, under the Obama administration in 2011, took out Bin Laden along with several innocent people, they caught Bin Laden like dude in a bedroom and then dumped his body in the sea. In an incredibly, I mean, I would call it a barbaric attack.
And what did that do policy wise, like, what? What was the consequence of that? So here we are, over 10 years later, taking out Bin Laden's number two. I mean, I think like, both of these examples, what fascinates me about them, and this may tie into, you know, our analysis of what this podcast is doing and who the intended audience of it is, would be that both of these examples are virtue signaling. I mean, they're the CIA saying, Look, we called out a bad guy, or we got a bad guy, and that is a beautiful, moral victory. When it's like, what about all the moral harm that you've done? Over the same period? I mean, as you were saying, Alex, like, it certainly outweighs it. But it's also just like, how are you selling this to people as a great victory? When this guy, you know, you The CIA admits now that al Qaeda and even ISIS are not grave threats to Americans at this point. Right? And so why are we claiming this, this is the best success you can come up with? is serious, the number two guy to the mastermind of an attack from over 20 years ago. I think we're I think we're gonna love this next clip where Burns makes his case for why the CIA is apolitical. So let's listen to that.
Great. I guess I would just add one other word to, to ingenuity and dedication. And that's apolitical, because our job is not to bend intelligence to suit political or policy preferences or agendas, no, it's to deliver the best intelligence that we can gather the best analysis that we can put together with honesty and integrity. Our job is to tell policymakers what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And I've seen the importance of that over, you know, many decades of public service, first as a career diplomat, and now as director of CIA, working for six presidents and administrations of both parties. And I've seen that we only get ourselves in trouble as a nation, and we make bad policy choices when we forget those very basic truth.
Thank you for for highlighting that word as well. Appreciate it.
I had to keep that last part.
That was fantastic. Thank you. Thank you, sir. Thank you for highlighting that last virtue like that was the most virtue signally part of that entire clip right there every anything that we've heard, you know, thank thank you, thank you for thank you for really acknowledging the importance of being apolitical that's so that's so crucial. Nobody thinks about that anymore. It's like, good luck.
So So I do want to I do think this is really important to talk about, because what I've noticed, when the US government, especially intelligence agencies, when they use a word, like apolitical and I think, actually, you've been hear this a little bit in higher ed too, when when we're talking about like, free speech, in higher ed and and and avoiding avoiding making your class too political, because you might, you might get in trouble, right. Often what we mean is partisan. So so so political, does not mean like any political values, it means like explicitly going in for the Republicans over the Democrats, or the Democrats over the Republicans. And I just think that that's a very blinkered and limited understanding of political.
Oh, it's incredibly narrow. Again, when you take into account that, like, everything that the CIA does is political, right? It's like, in some way shape, or like they, I mean, they're a public agency, right? Yeah, they work for the US government, they admitted it right from the very top like we are there to like, okay, even if you take them at their very their own language, we are there to protect the safety of the American people. That's a political goal that is political, sorry. Like it really, truly is. Especially when you talk about the actual like, what that means in terms of repressing other governments around the world like that is and social movements and other places like that is political even
always going to be political. The choice to define an American people that you are defending is a political choice, because why not also defend, for example, like the Mexican people, the Canadian people, like people, even just in our immediate geopolitical surrounds, right, but But yeah, at a broader level, of course, because of the, you know, these problems that the CIA claims exist, objectively out there in the world as natural facts. All of those problems are global problems. So why wouldn't you say that you're defending all people? Right? Right, because you're making a political rhetorical choice.
Yeah, you are a nationalist organization. Like whether Yeah, I mean, that's, that's implied right, in the very language that they're using.
Right. And just the one other thing that I thought about when I heard this clip for the first time was that it makes me think a lot about the police and how, you know, increasingly, I almost think it's, well, it has bet really bad social effects. But I almost think it's clarifying that a lot of local police departments are getting increasingly politicized, like FOP members are openly supporting Trump and supporting these like really extreme political candidates. They almost always oppose a Democratic mayor. In cities, they want, like these fringe Republican mayors to somehow get elected to unleash them more on the populace. I think what's good about that is that it helps expose that the police are political entities. I think the police portray themselves as just enforcing law and order with no political bias of any sort, no political interest, but in fact, they are a political interest group within whatever jurisdiction they're operating in, you know what I mean? And so I think we have to see the CIA the same way. I mean, this is an institution that gets a certain amount of the public budget every year. So they have political incentives, if nothing else, just to keep themselves alive and keep their budgets growing. Yes. And so given those incentives, they make political decisions. And so it's just bizarre to imagine that they're separate from political processes.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. This is not a perfectly rational organization that is able to mete out justice in the way that you know, the Yeah, yeah. Without any, any political bias even defined in like partisan or nonpartisan terms, right. Like, yeah, it's ridiculous.
So in the next clip, I have here, our co host, Walter, just very quickly summarizes the CIA eras of the last 75 years. And I think this is a really interesting narrative. So let's just hear what Walter has to say about that.
And we want to take a moment to highlight the importance of this year for the agency, as many listeners will know, this is the CIA 75th anniversary. And CIA has gone through a lot of change over its history, from the Cold War to the post 911 era to this era of great power competition.
So what do you think about that?
great power competition, I mean, yeah, obviously, just like, Okay, let's make a list of euphemisms here for, to kind of quickly summarize the different eras that the CIA has gone through all the way from, again, like I alluded to before in the let's think about what happened 75 years ago, that that would have caused the creation of a covert intelligence operation. Oh, yeah, that's right. You know, the end of World War Two, where all of a sudden were, the US is poised against the Soviet Union. And oh, yeah. So we're, so what are we doing in that era? Well, we have Operation Paperclip, and, you know, all these other intelligence operations that are bringing over, you know, Verner von Braun, Friedrich Galen, you know, Klaus Barbie, like all these baby like, truly Nazi war criminals, who were, you know, either Yeah, who were basically exonerated and brought into US intelligence circles, setting up their own intelligence organizations to feed this sort of like counter intelligence to the US about the Soviet Union and help come up with tactics for waging, you know, basically, what almost evolved into a hot war, thanks to the sort of bad intel that that, particularly Friedrich Galen was giving to the CIA in the US more broadly, like that almost led to a actual, like, sort of nuclear annihilation. And then, you know, yeah, moving up to today, were just as recently, as you know, a couple of years ago, now, we are suppressing left wing movements in Italy, that led to the recent election of a far right, basically, you know, Mussolini adjacent, let's say, leader in in as the Italian Prime Minister. So we've come a long way, baby.
Yeah, no, I mean, I think it's very important to remind people of that, I mean, I think people have a vague idea of the history. But, you know, during the Cold War, it was not just the US and the Soviet Union, like in this kind of bipolar struggle. It was the CIA's mission to oppose all left wing movements all over the world on the assumption that they would become new fronts for the Soviets. And of course, the Soviets did maintain foreign policy relationships with many of those movements, but like, you know, as we know, too well, in the last few elections, foreign interference is very common in all in all democratic elections. And that doesn't thereby give you the right to like join in the fray. Right and then back your favorite, favorite party to the point of us assassinating members of parties that you you don't agree with. And so, so yeah, the Cold War era into the post 911 era. I like that they just own up to that. Yeah, we totally changed our stance on, you know, what the gravest threats to Americans were like on a dime on a single day. And started, as you were alluding to earlier, assassinating wedding parties and funeral parties around the Middle East. into today, the great power competition, where, you know, as you'll see, and what Burns says in the next clip, this is really about China. Yes, it's it's not as if there are all these other great powers that are threatening the United States. It's one in particular, and it's China baby. And they're a big threat, apparently. Which, which I just think, is mind boggling when you consider the size of our military, the number of nukes we have, and the fact that we have China entirely encircled with military bases. But yeah, so let's, let's take a listen to what Byrne says about the great the great power competition. Mr. Burns,
Mr. Burns. Excellent.
Um, so the 75th, I think is an opportunity to reflect on what we got right? And what we got wrong. Over those years.
What did we get wrong?
we've had some good times or bad times. But mainly, it's been a big old party
navigate successfully, you know, what is an incredibly complicated international terrain? You know, featuring, as you mentioned, major power competition with rising powers like China, and we've
rising powers like China, what are the other powers?
I was just about to say, what else is a rising? I mean, I guess, maybe India and like some very small. Yeah, exactly. Like we're not there's there's not a great power competition, like I know, yeah, or Iran, like we talking about, you
know, that is that is very strategic language to take a sample of one and pretend that it's much bigger than that
created a new center at CIA focused on trying to we're trying to put more resources recruit more Mandarin speakers, to help address that central geopolitical challenge. But it's also means we have to deal with declining powers, not just rising ones, like Russia, and Putin demonstrates every day that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising ones, it means dealing effectively with the revolution in technology, which is transforming the way in which we operate overseas. And which makes it all the more important for us to organize ourselves in a way, both at headquarters and in the field and to build stronger partnerships with the private sector as well. So we can better understand trends and technology and help the American people compete better, you know, with adversaries around rivals around the world, too. And so I think, you know, all of those things are what marks this landscape. And of course, you know, as the Zoa, here, we strike reminds us, we still have the continuing challenge of terrorism, it may take different forms today than it did over most of the last 20 years. But it's still a significant challenge, we still have significant capabilities at this agency, working with partners across the US government, and that's going to be another of our most important priorities. It's a balancing act as well, it's gonna continue to be
a lot to do
lots of Oh, my God, the task ahead of us to manage the competition that that all Americans face against our like, yeah, against my rival that I play online video games against in China or South Korea or whatever. Yeah, in Russia, like, like, what is he talking about, like battling harder? This is just like that oblique language and references to like, Oh, we're developing more partnerships with the private sector in order to help, like regular Americans compete against their rivals overseas. And it's like, what are you? What is this supposed to be like some, you know, you're competing in a global job market against people from China and Russia and wherever else? Or like, I just, I mean, so we have the reemergence of the competition metaphor. We also have this weird invocation of the verb organize ourselves, which I yeah, that is like, I don't know if that's supposed to be an appropriation of the sort of like progressive idiom of organizing, right? Like organizing people in mass to challenge power, right? Like that's the traditional definition of it is you you get organized in a group of people Will, it's harder to, you know, arrest 100 people than it is to arrest a single person demonstrating against, you know, dissenting against a government. Here, he seems to be using it to say like we the CIA are organizing ourselves in this mass, intelligence, social movement against against rising powers, as well as as well as what did he say declining powers? Was what Russia is,
yeah, declining powers. Right. And I thought that that is particularly ironic that he was talking about, he said, as we've seen with Russia, declining powers can be very disruptive to the world. Yeah. Like, can you think of any other declining powers that have been very disruptive to the world on their slash our way out? No, no, it feels like
just a teeny tiny bit of projection going on here. I
know. But I, I'm so glad that you caught the use of the word organized, because let's take what we've heard so far, we've heard a ton of virtue signaling, presenting the CIA, basically, as you know, the world's most powerful cancellation machine, we cancelled. We cancelled Zawahiri. And, and they're talking about organizing, they're presenting it in a genre of an NPR style podcast, I feel like this thing is targeting liberal academics. And, like, God, I think that's why it's so important that we're doing this podcast, because we need to educate our fellow liberal academics, that the CIA is not on your side, the CIA is not your friend, their analysis of issues like race and gender and representation is not intersectional. The biggest reason you can tell that's the case is that it's not internationalist. It is yes, focused on a nationalist perspective that we should care about American lives at the expense of all others. And, you know, certainly they're not thinking about class, and disability and all kinds of other issues that, you know, that should affect our analyses of like, typical, and I think worthy, liberal academic concerns. Yeah. And so this does feel to me, like a very cynical pitch to liberal academics to be like, Look, the job market in academia is really hard. You know what's a much less hard job market? Coming to work for the CIA.
That's where all the humanities PhDs are going, folks if the job market doesn't improve,
I think that's their idea.
I think, yes. The only other thing I wanted to mention here really quickly, is that I wonder if they are also kind of leaning into this, you know, a truly partisan realignment where it feels like you have a lot more sort of like right wing ideologues like Marjorie Taylor Greene, or Lauren bowburn, Matt Gaetz. And, you know, Donald Trump, of course, now, too, is getting investigated by the FBI and the DOJ. And, you know, the right wing is turning against the three letter agencies and the intelligence community and the deep state as as they have, unfortunately, appropriated the term. And what I what I do worry about, especially with, you know, the FBI being involved in the potential I guess, prosecution or at least investigation of Donald Trump that that they are trying to lean into this this suppose it partisan realignment of like, FBI CIA woke and good, you know, especially because you can't you see that that crazy, you know, crazy lady with the AR 15 Over there is yelling about the CIA brainwashing our children about abolishing the FBI. Yeah, abolishing the FBI. You don't want to align yourself with that person. Right. It just I Yeah. I don't know if that's a part of it. But I'm sensing that as part of the cultural milieu
I think that's playing a role here too. And, and it Yeah, it makes me wonder how long will they really be able to say that they are apolitical because it certainly feels like they're they're aligning more with one party rather than the other. And, you know, that's not to say anything about the value of either party. I certainly agree with the CIA that the Republicans are, you know, off the deep end, but anyways, I just have, I think two more short clips, and then we can wrap up. All right, so now we're gonna hear Dee first. Dee is going to talk about the the upcoming episodes, they're going to deal more with the CIA's history.
And you you kind of strike at the heart of needing to learn from our history to kind of grow and progress to understand the current landscape and how to move forward with our mission on that end. And for those of you when we were mentioning that it is our 75th anniversary, we just wanted to mention to our listeners that we're going to be sitting down in a future episode to kind of discuss a little bit more about our backstory as an agency, some of the events that we've held to celebrate and to kind of highlight our agency's work over the 75 years, so stay tuned for that. It's great.
I look forward to that.
Thanks. Thanks, Dee. We're gonna have we're gonna have some great events, some great celebrations of all the hard work that we've done. Yeah, we're
gonna bring in a lot of experts to talk about our history. Jeremy Scahill, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn.
Our we're gonna bring him back from the grave. We have a hologram Howard Zinn. hollows.
Yeah, it's gonna be they do have the tech to do that. I bet. But ya know, it's, it's so funny to hear them talking about their history as if it's something that we're all just so excited to talk about,
Oh, absolutely. We can't wait for the future history of the CIA, as told by the CIA.
So then Walter and Dee, our intrepid hosts, they again, take a step back and summarize what they see as the purpose of the podcast. So let's, let's see if it backs up my theory from earlier.
For those of you that have stuck around, we wanted to take just a few more minutes to share our thoughts on what it is that we're really trying to achieve here with this podcast and
provide you with some insight on what you can expect to hear. And the goal
is really to have on guests that can both provide insights into important events that the agency took part in or LED, and to also share some really cool stories about the officers who made them possible,
will also bring you stories from our museum and our historians. And we're
going to talk with some agency leaders who can share what it means to be a part of CIA's culture, and perhaps share some stories about the incredible work we do here on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, we really want this podcast to serve three main functions. First, we want to give you a unique look behind the curtain. We also want to give you the chance to hear directly from the people that do this work every day. And finally, we want to educate the world on the history of the agency and its enduring mission. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure.
Wow, it only came in at the very end there where I started hearing like, okay, yeah, this is like Sarah Koenig and Roman Mars talking directly to me about about how great the CIA is about celebrating our heritage, about you know, just charting a course for the, for a beautiful future out of out of the remnants of the past,
right? I mean, maybe, you know, maybe I'm, I'm having a little bit of selection bias here, but I'm just hearing little breadcrumbs, the back of my theory, the use of the phrase, this work, the people who do this work, yeah, this work, the use of educate, it's not our job to educate you, but still, we're gonna educate you. I think it's purposeful man.
I know I definitely do to that. I think you're absolutely right in pointing out that, like the linguistic idiom that they are, or the rhetorical idiom, we might say that they are borrowing from most heavily is that of like, like, liberal academia and, you know, podcasts that are again, not not exclusively, but not exclusively listened to, but certainly, like predominated by liberals, right, like this is not. I'm like, imagine a counterexample, if you will, where they do a CIA podcast in the style of the Joe Rogan experience, right? Like imagine, imagine if this was a JRE CIA podcast, right? Like, like, this is the you know, you just hear somebody like token on a fat blurry background. So you ever you ever saw this, like, so this MK Ultra stuff? I know that they they released the documents on this, but like, what did it really mean? Like, what was it really all about? So?
So you're saying that the goal was to not to intervene in democracy, but to actually protect Americans?
God dang it. I mean, to be quite honest, like, who knows? Maybe Maybe Mr. Burns is going to go on the Joe Rogan experience to plug the CIA.
Well, he doesn't need to because that's another CIA show.
I was okay. Yeah. There you go. There we go. We've come full circle on that. Yeah. Very nice.
So just to take us out I think the the way that they close the podcast is I think you're gonna have some thoughts on it. So let's just hear this little genre touch they put in at the very end.
Thank you, listeners for joining us today. We look forward to having you join us again, for our next episode.
And from all of us here at CIA. We'll be seeing you
don't forget to hit stop on the recording.
We'll do can you get the lights? Got it?
So it's like, it's like a tongue in cheek kind of like, we're not spying on you. But what if we were
we'll be seeing, you know, again, these there are little things that are put in there to make the you know, again, the proverbial tinfoil hat people just make their heads explode.
Exactly. Yeah, it's designed. It's yeah, they're dunking on Magga people, they're there. Which, again, that backs up my theory as well. So, I mean, wow, what can we say here at the end? I guess my my final statement is, you know, we need an analysis of social justice and rhetoric and communication and writing that, you know, that clarifies that, you know, you can't, you can't really be fully bought in on these ideas of social justice, and, you know, go to work for an agency that, that does so much harm to marginalized people around the world.
Absolutely. And I mean, I think you pointed this out earlier, and I thought it was really astute, that a good way to spot a phony. In this case, in this case, it should be pretty obvious. It's the frickin CIA trying to convince you that they're woke and good. But I think a good way to spot a phony is, is to ask, is their analysis intersectional? And is it internationalist? Right? Like is are they focused on good outcomes for everybody the world out the world throughout? Or are they only focused on outcomes for specifically a category of people constituted by a nation state like American people? Right? That is going to be the ultimate tell if they are hoisting a nationalist banner, and they're telling you that in their own terms, you can pretty safely say this is the you know, this, ain't it? Chief, this is not what you want. This is not the the woke analysis that you were really looking for.
Yeah. So just, you know, yes. The academic job market is hard. But
please English PhDs don't go work for the CIA, I promise you. Adjunct thing is more I'm sorry.
Just find an ineffectual nonprofit to work for. Yeah, you know, there's a lot of options. Even that would do much less harm. Just don't work for the CIA. But I'm glad we I'm glad we took a look at this. Because, you know, we have to stay on top of the competition. Right, Alex?
That's right. Yep. Yeah, exactly. We don't want them you know, budding. But you know, budding our number one spot atop the CIA network's charts. So we need to, you know, I mean, sorry, I wasn't supposed to say that. We, we don't want, you know, yeah, we want to, you know, rhetorical analysis, I would say, still always wins the day. Yeah. Right. Like we, we don't claim to be a political or non partisan. I don't think that you really can be. But at least we, you know, are addressing our priors. And we make our assumptions clear, which is the kind of thing that you it sounds like are not going to get from the CIA podcast. So listen to more reverb.
Absolutely. We got 72 other episodes you can enjoy. And I guess just as we sign off here, I would say I'm Dee,
and I'm, I can't remember what the names. I'm well, I'm Walter, and
we'll be seeing you. Yeah, sure. And I'll turn the lights off, too. And also turn off all these recording devices. Excellent. Excellent. Yeah. Great. All right. We'll talk to you all soon.
Thank you. Bye. Bye. Everybody. Watch me actually say all the stuff that they were saying. Our show today was produced and edited by Alex Helberg and Calvin Pollak. re:verb's co producers at large are Sophie Wodzak, Ben Williams, and Mike Laudenbach. You can subscribe to reverb and leave us a review on Apple podcasts Stitcher, Android or wherever you listen to podcasts. Check out our website at WWW dot reverb cast.com. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter where our handle is at reverb cast. That's R E V E R B underscore C A S T. If you've enjoyed our show and want to help amplify more of our public scholarship work, please consider leaving us a five star review on your podcast platform of choice and tell a friend about us. We sincerely appreciate the support of our listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in.